Epic's ongoing quest to dethrone Steam as the PC gaming storefront of note has taken a new turn with First Run, an option for developers to get 100% of their game's sales revenue in exchange for being an exclusive on the platform for six months. But is this really a good choice?
First Run, which will be available starting in mid-October, is seemingly an attempt to woo developers who are getting tired of paying Steam's 30% share, an industry standard rate but nevertheless one many feel is excessive. The Epic Games Store already offers a more generous 12% cut, but creators can and do list their game elsewhere at that tier.
In addition to getting all the net sales revenue, games in First Run will get "exclusive badging, homepage placements, and dedicated collections. In addition, products will be featured in relevant store campaigns including sales, events, and editorial as applicable." So they'll push it harder.
Though it sounds nice, the deal may not be a good one for as many as you'd think. Steam, for all its shortcomings and 30% off the top, is the de facto platform for PC gamers, and developers have shared that when their game is available on both Steam and Epic, the latter makes up only a small fraction of sales.
True, many developers took exclusivity offers — but those were because Epic paid cash up front depending on what they felt they might earn from that exclusivity. For some independent developers, getting (say) $150,000 guaranteed was far superior than a chance at twice or 10 times that. Small dev teams have bills to pay and the Epic exclusivity buyouts were a good way to hedge bets and keep the lights on — after a while, they'd head to Steam anyway.
But the fact remains that Epic is asking them to trade 70% of a big pie for 100% of a smaller pie — perhaps much smaller. Epic is an active platform, but a lack of features makes it hard to recommend as a real alternative to Steam. Years in and there are still no reviews! The Steam reviews economy is so strong it is a self-contained internet subculture. Not to mention the various other nice-to-haves the venerable game store has built up over its many years of operation.
It may not be a viable option for small developers — though they will know best whether it might actually be — but larger companies may actually bite. If you're publishing a fairly big game on PC that you know people will buy, but you don't have your own store (or your own store sucks), Epic could make for a better sales channel than Steam. We'll likely see a few companies testing the waters here.
Does this new program mean Epic is feeling good, or that it's hurting for customers? It's impossible to say, though certainly it has not emerged as a credible challenger to Steam over the last years, despite pumping huge sums of money into giveaways and exclusives. It turns out that while people are happy to cash in a freebie, they also like to have a reason to stay — and that's what Epic seems to be having trouble delivering.